BARACK OBAMA: SUPPORTING URBAN PROSPERITY
“Americans work harder than the people of any other wealthy nation. We are willing to tolerate more economic instability and are willing to take more personal risks to get ahead. But we can only compete if our government makes the investments that give us a fighting chance – and if we know our families have some net beneath which they cannot fall.”
[Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope]
BARACK OBAMA: INVESTING IN AMERICA’S CITIES
Barack Obama has had a lifelong commitment to the people and neighborhoods of America’s cities. He understands that cities and metropolitan regions are key drivers of prosperity in the global economy and that opportunities for and contributions from all people and communities are critical to America’s long term success. Cities house over 80 percent of the people, businesses, universities, and cultural institutions in America, and produce well over 85 percent of the nation’s wealth. Cities enable the concentrated exchange of ideas and resources that generates the nation’s innovation and entrepreneurship. Particularly in the knowledge economy, we cannot afford to waste any of the human capital, real estate and business assets of cities. Investing in the cities and their residents will keep America competitive, prosperous and strong.
Barack Obama knows this from personal experience – and he also knows the challenges faced by people living in cities. After graduating from college, Obama moved to the South Side of Chicago to serve as director for the Developing Communities Project, a church-based social action group. Together with a coalition of ministers, Obama set out to help restore and reconnect poor urban neighborhoods by increasing employment and housing investment and improving safety and infrastructure. Obama also helped form a tenants’ rights group in the housing projects that successfully organized to clear asbestos from more than 1,200 low-income apartments. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, Obama declined lucrative law firm offers to head Project Vote, a Chicago voter registration effort that registered the largest number of African Americans in a single local effort. His commitment to urban development and renewal continued during his tenure as a civil rights attorney, state senator from Chicago’s South Side, and United States Senator. As president, Obama will implement a regional development agenda that utilizes and strengthens the considerable assets of our urban centers to ensure long-term prosperity for all.
Create a White House Office on Urban Policy: Barack Obama will take the federal government’s role in supporting urban America seriously. Today, government programs aimed at strengthening metropolitan areas are spread across the federal government – including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Labor and Department of Commerce – with insufficient coordination or strategy. Worse, many federal programs inadvertently undermine cities and regions by encouraging inefficient and costly patterns of development and local competition. Obama will create a White House Office of Urban Policy to develop a strategy for metropolitan America and to ensure that all federal dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs. The Director of Urban Policy will report directly to the president and coordinate all federal urban programs.
Fully Fund the Community Development Block Grant: In the long run, regions are only as strong as their people and neighborhoods. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is an important program that helps strengthen cities and towns throughout the nation by providing housing and creating jobs primarily for low- and moderate-income people and places. The Bush administration has consistently attempted to cut funding for CDBG, including by $1.2 billion next year and $6.9 billion over the next five years. Barack Obama has fought against these cuts, and as president, he will restore funding for the CDBG program.
Do No Harm: Barack Obama does not support imposing unfunded mandates on states and localities. Obama strongly supports providing necessary funding for programs such as No Child Left Behind.
Support Job Creation: The federal government has a role to play to ensure that every American is able to work at his or her highest capacity. Barack Obama believes that we need to double federal funding for basic research, expand the deployment of broadband technology and make the research and development tax credit permanent so that businesses can invest in innovation and create high-paying, secure jobs. As president, Obama will make long-term investments in education, language training, and workforce development so that Americans can leverage our strengths – our ingenuity and entrepreneurialism – to create new high-wage jobs and prosper in a global economy. A critical part of this process is ensuring that we reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and ensure that it strengthens federal investments needed for success in the 21st Century.
Increase Access to Capital for Underserved Businesses: Businesses cannot thrive without adequate access to capitol. Less than 1 percent of the $250 billion in venture capital dollars invested annually nationwide has been directed to the country’s 4.4 million minority business owners. A recent study found that minority business owners, even if they have the same characteristics as other business owners, are denied credit much more frequently and are required to pay higher interest rates than white applicants. To compound this problem in recent years, there has been a significant decline in the share of Small Business Investment Company financings that have gone to minority-owned and women-owned businesses. In order to increase their size, capacity, and ability to do business with the federal government and to compete in the open market, minority firms need greater access to venture capital investment as well as greater access to business loans. Barack Obama will strengthen Small Business Administration programs that provide capital to minority-owned businesses, support outreach programs that help minority business owners apply for loans, and work to encourage the growth and capacity of minority firms.
Create a National Network of Public-Private Business Incubators: Barack Obama will support entrepreneurship and spur job growth by creating a national network of public-private business incubators. Business incubators facilitate the critical work of entrepreneurs in creating start-up companies. They offer help designing business plans, provide physical space, identify and address problems affecting small businesses and give advice on a wide range of business practices. Business incubators will engage the expertise and resources of local institutions of higher education and successful private sector businesses to help ensure that small businesses have both a strong plan and the resources for long-term success. Obama will invest $250 million per year to increase the number and size of incubators in urban communities throughout the country.
Convert our Manufacturing Centers into Clean Technology Leaders: America boasts the highest-skilled manufacturing workforce in the world and advanced manufacturing facilities that have powered economic growth in America for decades. Barack Obama believes that America is at a competitive advantage when it comes to building the high-demand technologies of the future, and he will help nurture America’s success in clean technology manufacturing by establishing a federal investment program to help manufacturing centers modernize and help Americans learn the new skills they may need to produce green products. Along with the increased federal investment in the research, development and deployment of advanced technologies, this investment will help spur sustainable economic growth in communities across the country.
Strengthen Core Infrastructure: As our society becomes more mobile and interconnected, the need for 21stcentury transportation networks has never been greater. However, too many of our nation’s railways, highways, bridges, airports, and neighborhood streets are slowly decaying due to lack of investment and strategic longterm planning. Barack Obama believes that America’s long-term competitiveness depends on the stability of our critical infrastructure. As president, Obama will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority.
Improve Transportation Access to Jobs: America’s families and businesses depend upon workers having reasonable access to their places of employment. Three-quarters of welfare recipients live in areas that are poorly served by public transportation and low-income workers spend up to 36 percent of their incomes on transportation. Barack Obama has spent years working to improve transportation access for low-income Americans. As an Illinois state senator, he was the chief sponsor of the bill that created the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation, a body that was charged with building public-private partnerships to help connect low-income Americans with jobs. As president, Obama will work to eliminate transportation disparities so that all Americans can lead meaningful and productive lives. Obama will double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account. JARC funds have been used to connect low-income workers around the country with job opportunities.
Invest in a Skilled Clean Technologies Workforce: Transitioning to a clean energy economy represents a tremendous opportunity for American workers. Barack Obama will invest in job training and transition programs to help workers and industries adapt to clean technology development and production. Obama will increase funding for federal workforce training programs and direct these programs to incorporate green technologies training, such as advanced manufacturing and weatherization training, into their efforts to help Americans find and retain stable jobs.
Barack Obama also believes the transition to a clean energy economy holds special promise for low-income communities and families, which are poised to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of global climate change. To combat this problem, Obama will create an energy-focused youth jobs program to invest in disconnected and disadvantaged youth. This program will provide youth participants with energy efficiency and environmental service opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of homes and buildings in their communities, while also providing them with practical skills and experience in important career fields of expected high-growth employment. The program will engage private sector employers and unions to provide apprenticeship opportunities. Participants will not only be able to use their training to find new jobs, but also build skills that will help them move up the career ladder over time.
Increase the Supply of Affordable Housing throughout Metropolitan Regions: Communities prosper when all families have access to affordable housing. It undermines both families and businesses when low-income families are priced out of the housing market. Regions then face a “jobs-housing mismatch” as employees cannot afford to live near where they work. Businesses, in turn, have higher workforce costs, and some local governments cannot attract teachers, firefighters and other public servants who cannot afford to live in their communities. Between 1993 and 2003, the number of units affordable to low-income households fell by 1.2 million. Barack Obama believes we should create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund would use a small percentage of the profits of two government-sponsored housing agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to create thousands of new units of affordable housing every year. Barack Obama will also restore cuts to public housing operating subsidies, and ensure that all Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs are restored to their original purpose.
Combat Mortgage Fraud and Subprime Loans: The implosion of the subprime lending industry threatens to bring foreclosure to over two million households, including many families with children. Barack Obama has been closely monitoring this situation for years and introduced comprehensive legislation over a year ago to fight mortgage fraud and protect consumers against abusive lending practices. Obama’s STOP FRAUD Act provides the first federal definition of mortgage fraud, increases funding for federal and state law enforcement programs, creates new criminal penalties for mortgage professionals found guilty of fraud, and requires industry insiders to report suspicious activity. This bill also provides counseling to homeowners and tenants to avoid foreclosures. Finally, Obama’s bill requires the Government Accountability Office to evaluate and report to Congress on various state lending practices so that state regulations that undermine consumer’s rights can be identified and hopefully eliminated.
Create Fund to Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosures: In addition to taking important steps to prevent mortgage fraud from occurring in the future, Barack Obama will establish policies to help Americans currently facing foreclosure through no fault of their own. For instance, in communities where there are many foreclosures property values of innocent homeowners are often also negatively impacted, driving them toward foreclosure, too.
Obama will create a fund to help people refinance their mortgages and provide comprehensive supports to innocent homeowners. The fund will also assist individuals who purchased homes that are simply too expensive for their income levels by helping them sell their homes. The fund will help offset costs of selling a home, including helping low-income borrowers get additional time and support to pay back any losses from the sale of their homes and waiving certain state and local income taxes that result from an individual selling his home to avoid foreclosure. These steps will ensure that individuals who have to sell their homes will be able to quickly regain stable financial footing. The fund will be partially paid for by Obama’s increased penalties on lenders who acted irresponsibly and committed fraud.
Establish ‘Promise Neighborhoods’ for Areas of Concentrated Poverty: Successful strategies to address concentrated, intergenerational poverty are comprehensive in nature and address the full range of obstacles that stand in the way of poor children. One highly-acclaimed model is the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, which provides a full network of services to an entire neighborhood from birth to college. Obama will create 20 Promise Neighborhoods in cities that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of student academic achievement. The Promise Neighborhoods will model the Harlem Children’s Zone and seek to engage all resident children and their parents in an achievement program based on tangible goals, including college for every participating student, strong physical and mental health outcomes for children as well as retention of meaningful employment and parenting schools for parents. Promise Neighborhood sites will be selected by the federal government after review of applications from cities and their existing non-profit organizations and school districts. Cities and private entities will be required to pay 50 percent of the program costs.
Provide a Living Wage: Barack Obama believes that people who work full time should not live in poverty. Before the Democrats took back Congress, the minimum wage had not changed in 10 years. Even though the minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour by 2009, the minimum wage’s real purchasing power will still be below what it was in 1968. As president, Obama would further raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing – things so many people take for granted.
Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit: In the Illinois State Senate, Obama led the successful effort to create the $100 million Illinois Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). As president, Obama will reward work by increasing the number of working parents eligible for EITC benefits, increasing the benefit available to parents who support their children through child support payments, increasing the benefit for families with three or more children, and reducing the EITC marriage penalty which hurts low-income families. Under the Obama plan, full-time workers making the minimum wage would get an EITC benefit up to $555, more than three times greater than the $175 benefit they get today. If the workers are responsibly supporting their children on child support, the Obama plan would give those workers a benefit of $1,110. The Obama plan would also increase the EITC benefit for those families that are most likely to be in poverty – families with three or more children.
Help Low-Income Workers Enter the Job Market: Obama’s commitment to helping low-income workers began early in his life. After college, Obama worked for a church-based group in Chicago to improve living conditions in poor neighborhoods plagued by high unemployment. Obama worked with a group that used charitable grants to assess skills of unemployed workers and help them find jobs. As president, Obama will invest $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathways programs that implement proven methods of helping low-income Americans succeed in the workforce. This investment will be coupled with other measures to encourage the private sector and state and local governments to increase their support of these effective employment programs.
Support Teachers in Inner-City Schools: From the moment children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is their teacher. Barack Obama values teachers and the central role that they play in education. To ensure competent, effective teachers in schools that are organized for success, Obama’s K-12 plan will expand service scholarships to underwrite high-quality preparation for teachers who commit to working in underserved districts, support ongoing improvements in teacher education, provide mentoring for beginning teachers, create incentives for shared planning and learning time for teachers, and support career pathways in participating districts that provide ongoing professional development and reward accomplished teachers for their expertise. The Obama Career Ladder initiative will help eliminate teacher shortages in hard-to-staff areas and subjects, improve teacher retention rates, strengthen teacher preparation programs, improve professional development, and better utilize and reward accomplished teachers.
Reform and Fund No Child Left Behind: The goal of the No Child Left Behind Act is the right one – ensuring that all children can meet high standards – but the law has significant flaws that need to be addressed. Barack Obama believes it was wrong to force teachers, principals and schools to accomplish the goals of No Child Left Behind without the necessary resources. We have failed to provide high-quality teachers in every classroom and failed to support and pay for those teachers. Obama understands that NCLB has demoralized our educators, broken its promise to our children and must be changed in a fundamental way. Obama will work with mayors and state leaders to ensure that NCLB reform addresses the need for a broader range of assessments and an accountability system that focuses on improving schools, rather than punishing them.
Expand Early Childhood Education: Research shows that half of low-income children start school up to two years behind their peers in preschool skills and that these early achievement gaps continue throughout elementary school. Obama has been a champion of early childhood education since his years in the Illinois legislature, where he led the effort to create the Illinois Early Learning Council. Obama has introduced a comprehensive “Zero to Five” plan to provide critical supports to young children and their parents by investing $10 billion per year to create: Early Learning Challenge Grants to stimulate and help fund state “zero to five” efforts; quadruple the number of eligible children for Early Head Start and increase Head Start funding and improve quality for both; work to ensure all children have access to pre-school; provide affordable and high quality child care that will promote child development and ease the burden on working families; and create a Presidential Early Learning Council to increase collaboration and program coordination across federal, state, and local levels.
Reduce the High School Dropout Rate: Only 70 percent of U.S. high school students graduate with a diploma. African American and Latino students are significantly less likely to graduate than white students. Obama will address this problem by helping at-risk students before they get to high school, because the warning signs often occur well before high school. Obama will sign into law his “Success in the Middle Act,” which will provide federal support to improve the education of middle school students in low-performing schools by requiring states to develop a detailed plan to improve student achievement, develop and utilize early identification data systems to identify those students most at-risk of dropping out and invest in proven strategies that reduce the number of drop outs. Obama will also support federal efforts to continue to encourage schools to organize themselves for greater success by developing stronger relationships among adults and students, a more engaging curriculum, more adaptive teaching, and more opportunities for teachers to plan and learn together.
Obama will establish a competitive grant process open to existing or proposed public/private partnerships or entities that are pursuing evidence-based models that work – such as Diploma Plus or Teacher Advisor programs. These grants will decrease the dropout rate by increasing the capacity of state and district leaders as well as outside leaders – foundations, politicians, entrepreneurs, and community leaders – to collaborate on improving graduation rates.
Make College More Affordable: Barack Obama will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans and will cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition at the average public college or university. And by making the tax credit fully refundable, Obama’s credit will help low-income families that need it the most. Obama will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior year’s tax data to deliver the credit at the time that tuition is due, rather than a year or more later when tax returns are filed.
Provide Universal Health Care Access and Lower Health Costs: Barack Obama is committed to signing universal health legislation by the end of his first term in office that ensures all Americans have high-quality, affordable health care coverage. His plan will save a typical American family up to $2,500 every year on medical expenditures by providing affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage for every American; modernizing the U.S. health care system to contain spiraling health care costs and improve the quality of patient care; and promoting prevention and strengthening public health to prevent disease and protect against natural and man-made disasters.
Fight Health Disparities: Tackling minority health disparities is a top priority for Barack Obama. His universal health care plan expands coverage to all Americans, addressing a major cause of health disparities: insurance coverage. The Obama plan promotes research into combating health care disparities, conducts educational and health outreach to minorities, increases the diversity of healthcare professionals, and improves the delivery of health care to minorities. Finally, the Obama plan also requires health providers to inform the public about disparities and take steps to reduce those disparities. In the U.S. Senate, Obama helped write the Kennedy-Cochran-Obama Minority Health Improvement and Health Disparity Elimination Act. This bill puts new emphasis on disparity research by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and report health care data by race and ethnicity, as well as by geographic and socioeconomic status and level of health literacy.
Foster Healthy Communities: How a community is designed – including the layout of its roads, buildings and parks – has a huge impact on the health of its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and less than half of our country’s children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. This lack of a safe place to walk and play is a major contributor to the growing numbers of overweight children. Barack Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to help local governments assess the health impact of new policies and projects, like highways or shopping centers. Once the health impact is determined, the bill gives grant funding and technical assistance to help address potential health problems.
Support Local Law Enforcement: The Bush administration has consistently cut funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Barack Obama is committed to fully funding the COPS program to combat crime and help address police brutality and accountability issues in local communities. The COPS program provides local law enforcement funding for: hiring and training law enforcement officers; procuring equipment and support systems; paying officers to perform intelligence, anti-terror or homeland security duties; and developing new technologies, including inter-operable communications and forensic technology. Obama also supports efforts to encourage young people to enter the law enforcement profession, so that our local police departments are not understaffed because of a dearth of qualified applicants.
Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports: America is facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis in urban communities. Today, nearly 2 million children have a parent in a correctional facility. In the U.S. Senate, Obama has worked to provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling, and employment opportunities to ex-offenders. In addition to signing these important programs into law, Obama will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work Partnership, to create ties with employers and third-party agencies that provide training and support services to ex-offenders, and to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates. Obama will also work to reform correctional systems to break down barriers for ex-offenders to find employment.
End the Dangerous Cycle of Youth Violence: Barack Obama is committed to ending youth violence in Chicago. As a resident and former community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, Barack Obama has witnessed firsthand the destructive nature of youth violence and gang activity on our children and entire communities. As president, Barack Obama will support innovative local programs, such as the CeaseFire program in Chicago, that have been proven to work. Such programs implement a comprehensive public health approach that investigates the causes of youth violence and implements a community-based strategy to prevent youth violence by addressing both the symptoms and causes of neighborhood violence. He will also double funding for federal after school programs and invest in 20 Promise Neighborhoods across the country to ensure that urban youth have safe and meaningful opportunities to keep them off the streets after school.
End the Flow of Illegal Drugs into Our Cities: When law enforcement agencies operate in concert at the federal, state, and local levels, the chances of solving a crime increases. Since 2003, the Tiahrt Amendment has restricted the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to share gun trace information with members of state and local law enforcement. The ATF has a wide-ranging database of gun information, yet Washington has threatened police officers with time in prison for attempting to access it. As president, Barack Obama would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama also favors commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals who shouldn’t have them. He supports closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. He also supports making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.
End Racial Profiling: Barack Obama cosponsored federal legislation to ban racial profiling and require federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice. He introduced and passed a law in the Illinois State Senate requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to record the race, age, and gender of all drivers stopped for traffic violations so that bias could be detected and addressed.
Allocate Funds Based on Risk: Barack Obama believes that the president and Congress should direct our precious homeland security dollars according to risk, not as a form of general revenue sharing. These dollars help states and localities prepare for disaster and fund first responder needs. To address this pressing issue, Obama introduced an amendment on the Senate floor to increase risk-based funding in the 9/11 bill. Obama’s amendment was supported by the Families of 9/11 and former 9/11 Commissioners Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer.
Prepare Effective Emergency Response Plans: As our nation witnessed in the Hurricane Katrina crisis and its aftermath, too many localities do not have integrated emergency response plans to handle disasters. As an Illinois state legislator, Barack Obama passed legislation to improve Illinois’ disaster preparedness for terrorism and public health crises. Obama took his firsthand knowledge of state and local disaster planning to Washington where he has worked to provide greater federal tools and guidance to those responding to emergencies on the ground. Obama passed legislation to provide funding for planning for evacuating individuals with special needs from emergency zones and to create a National Family Locator System to help families locate loved ones after a disaster. As president, Obama will further improve coordination between all levels of government, create better evacuation plan guidelines, ensure prompt federal assistance to emergency zones, and increase medical surge capacity.
Improve Interoperable Communications Systems: Our nation lost precious time during the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina because of the lack of a 21st-century communications network for first responders, local governments, and federal agencies. In January 2007, the Department of Homeland Security gave only six of 75 metropolitan areas high grades for emergency communications. These systems must enable communications across city, county, and state lines and there must be a system by which the Federal government communicates with local entities. Barack Obama supports efforts to provide greater technical assistance to local and state first responders and dramatically increase funding for reliable, interoperable communications systems. He also supports a more rapid turnover of broadcast spectrum to first responders.
Safeguard Mass Public Transportation: Every weekday, Americans take 34 million trips on public transportation systems to get to work, school and beyond. Even though recent attacks have happened on public transit in Madrid, Mumbai and London, the Bush administration has invested only a small fraction of the $6 billion that transportation officials have said is necessary to implement needed security improvements. Barack Obama believes that this critical hole in our homeland security network must be addressed. He will fight for greater information-sharing between national intelligence agents and local officials and provide local law enforcement agencies with the everyday tools they need to protect their transportation systems. As a U.S. Senator representing Chicago, Illinois, one of the nation’s major rail transportation hubs, Obama has consistently advocated stronger rail and transit security programs.
Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and have access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Better transportation alternatives will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spent commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Control Superfund Sites and Data: Barack Obama demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency report on what it is doing to reduce and control human exposure to hazardous contaminants at more than 100 Superfund sites nationwide. As a state senator, he voted to create the Brownfields Rehabilitation and Redevelopment Program, which encourages private sector voluntary remediation of environmentally-distressed and underutilized sites. As president, Obama will restore the strength of the Superfund program by requiring polluters to pay for the cleanup of contaminated sites they created.
Use Innovative Measures to Dramatically Improve Efficiency of Buildings: Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States today and carbon emissions from buildings are expected to grow faster than emissions from other major parts of our economy. It is expected that 15 million new buildings will be constructed between today and 2015. Barack Obama will work with cities so that we make our new and existing buildings more efficient consumers of electricity.
Provide a Tax Cut for Working Families: Barack Obama will restore fairness to the tax code and provide 150 million workers the tax relief they deserve. Obama will create a new “Making Work Pay” tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family. This refundable income tax credit will provide direct relief to American families who face the regressive payroll tax system. It will offset the payroll tax on the first $8,100 of their earnings while still preserving the important principle of a dedicated revenue source for Social Security. The “Making Work Pay” tax credit will completely eliminate income taxes for 10 million Americans. The tax credit will also provide relief to self-employed small business owners who struggle to pay both the employee and employer portion of the payroll tax. The “Making Work Pay” tax credit offsets some of this selfemployment tax as well.
Strengthening Fatherhood and Families: Since 1960, the number of American children without fathers in their lives has quadrupled, from 6 million to more than 24 million. Children without fathers in their lives are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. Barack Obama has re-introduced the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, ensure that support payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies, fund support services for fathers and their families, and support domestic violence prevention efforts. As president, Obama will sign this bill into law and continue to implement innovative measures to strengthen families.
Support Parents with Young Children: Barack Obama would expand the highly successful Nurse-Family Partnership to all low-income, first-time mothers. The Nurse-Family Partnership provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families. The trained nurses use proven methods to help improve the mental and physical health of the family by providing counseling on substance abuse, creating and achieving personal goals, and effective methods of nurturing children. Proven benefits of these types of programs include improved women’s prenatal health, a reduction in childhood injuries, fewer unintended pregnancies, increased father involvement and women’s employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children’s school readiness. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded that these programs produced an average of five dollars in savings for every dollar invested and produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program. The Obama plan would assist approximately 570,000 first-time mothers each year.
Expand Paid Sick Days: Half of all private sector workers have no paid sick days and the problem is worse for employees in low-paying jobs, where less than a quarter receive any paid sick days. Barack Obama will require that employers provide seven paid sick days per year.
Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunities: Expanding access to high-quality afterschool programs will help children learn and strengthen a broad range of skills and provide relief to working parents who have to juggle child care and work responsibilities. Barack Obama will double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve one million more children. Obama will include measures to maximize performance and effectiveness across grantees nationwide.
Expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit: The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit provides too little relief to families that struggle to afford child care expenses. Currently, the credit only covers up to 35 percent of the first $3,000 of child care expenses a family incurs for one child and the first $6,000 for a family with two or more children. And the credit is not refundable, which means that upper-income families disproportionately benefit while families who make under $50,000 a year receive less than a third of the tax credit. Barack Obama will reform the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by making it refundable and allowing low-income families to receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses. Coupled with Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit, this proposal will help put more money directly in the pockets of hardworking low and middle-income parents.
Reform Bankruptcy Laws to Protect Families Facing a Medical Crisis: More than half of all personal bankruptcies today are caused by medical bills. Barack Obama will protect workers who fall into personal bankruptcy as a result of a medical crisis. Current law, which Obama opposed in the 2005 bankruptcy bill, provides too many families with inadequate relief when faced by an unforeseen medical crisis. Obama will create an exemption from the new law’s requirement that middle class families extend their debts rather than have them forgiven. If a person can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the bankruptcy court that the reason they filed for bankruptcy was a result of debts incurred through medical expenses, then Obama believes they should be relieved of that debt through a process that lets them get back on their feet.
Cap Outlandish Interest Rates on Payday Loans and Improve Disclosure: In the wake of reports that some service members were paying 800 percent interest on payday loans, the U.S. Congress took bipartisan action to limit interest rates charged to service members to 36 percent. Barack Obama believes that we must extend this protection to all Americans, because predatory lending continues to be a major problem for low and middle income families alike. Obama also believes that we need to ensure that all Americans have access to clear and simplified information about loan fees, payments and penalties, which is why he’ll require lenders to provide this information during the loan application process. Furthermore, Obama will work to empower more Americans in the fight against predatory lending by supporting initiatives to improve financial literacy and financial planning.
Encourage Responsible Lending Institutions to Make Small Consumer Loans: Some mainstream, responsible lending institutions are beginning to enter the short-term lending market to provide many Americans with fair alternatives to predatory lending institutions. These loans provide a reasonable period of time to be repaid, charge fair interest rates, and often ensure that the borrower has the ability to repay the loan on time. Some of these lending efforts are coupled with enhanced financial literacy training, which can ensure that Americans do not become caught in a never-ending cycle of debt. Barack Obama will work with his Secretary of Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to encourage banks, credit unions and Community Development Financial Institutions to provide affordable short-term and small dollar loans – and to drive the sharks out of business.
Some suggestions for the Obama urban policy paper
The Obama policy paper, Investing in America’s Cities, contains many excellent proposals. I’ll key on two of them: “fostering healthy communities” (under the section Health Care) and “building more livable and sustainable communities” (under the section Strengthen Livability of Cities). Each proposal could be strengthened by recognizing the contribution that a stronger local food system underpinned by urban agriculture projects can make.
The emphasis in the Obama policy paper on fostering healthy communities
is squarely placed on improving the built environment. How a community is designed—the layout of its roads, buildings, and parks, and having safe places for children to walk (sidewalks) and to play (playgrounds within walking distance of residents)—is seen as having a “huge impact” on the health of a community’s residents. Furthermore, the lack of such facilities is considered to be “a major contributor to the growing numbers of overweight children”.
No question that the growing incidence of overweight children and adults is a serious problem. While improvements to the built environment can help raise the level of health of any community’s residents, the Obama urban policy misses an opportunity to address an even more significant factor. And that is the quality and accessibility of the food we eat. In many disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, poor diet is a leading cause of community health problems and the rising incidence of overweight and obese residents. Many studies show conclusively that poor diet leads to increases in overweight and obesity residents, which in turn contributes to the spike in diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease cases. Consequently, attention to fostering healthy communities should be given to improving the access of people who live in inner city neighborhoods to more nutritious, affordable, safe and healthy foods. How to do this? Support the local food movement, particularly by expanding the reach and range of urban agriculture projects which includes, among other things, community gardens, farmers markets, farm to school programs, community supported agriculture farms, market basket programs, and roof top gardens.
Here’s a suggestion for adding a couple of other sentences to the paragraph in the “foster healthy communities” section.
A major cause of community health problems and the rising incidence of overweight children can be traced to an inadequate supply of healthy, nutritious food available to residents of less advantaged urban neighborhoods. Food deserts and overabundance of fast food places are contributors to these problems. Attention needs to be given to supporting the growing local food and urban agriculture movements. These efforts will lead to creating an environment that will provide more nutritious, healthy, and affordable foods for all city residents. In addition, a local food/ urban agriculture strategy can help strengthen community capacity, provide greater self-reliance, help youth development, provide jobs, and reduce dependence on fossil fuel use.
Why not an Obama Healthy Local Foods Act to parallel the Healthy Places Act that Barack Obama introduced?
The same omission is also evident in “building more livable and sustainable communities” (under the section, Strengthen Livability of Cities). No recognition is given to the need to have a vigorous and flourishing local food and urban agriculture system. Smart growth considerations like residents having greater access to walk, bicycle, and other transportation alternatives, which the paragraph emphasizes, are important for building more livable and sustainable communities. But that desirable goal can be enhanced by efforts to improve access to quality, healthy and nutritious food for everyone in a community. Such access would clearly contribute to building more livable and sustainable communities, not only in terms of improving the health of all residents of the community through encouraging healthier diet, but also for capturing the benefits of less use of fossil food energy, helping empower residents of disadvantaged communities with useful skills, and contributing to youth development.
This is very exciting. As a Family Physician in an urban community clinic (Los Angeles) I am struck daily with both the level of diabetes and obestiy in my largely Latino population and the lack of safe places for my patients, both children and adults, to exercise and find affordable fresh produce. There’s a dearth of Farmer’s Markets in the immediate area despite an abundance of fast food venues, and not all of the limited parks in the area feel safe to the locals who are so in need of open space. I’m delighted to see work in this area. “Grngasalud@aol.com”
(Adopted by the American Planning Association Board of Directors, May 11, 2007)
•recognize that urban agriculture can offer an important solution for improving access to healthy foods in low-income areas (p.2)
•recognize that inner cities have significant amounts of vacant land that when used for vegetable gardening by low-income residents can produce multiple health, social, and economic benefits (p.6)
•prepare comprehensive and neighborhood plans that recognize community gardens, farmers markets and other forms of urban agriculture as desirable civic uses in neighborhoods, and provide sufficient space, infrastructure and inter-modal transportation access for such uses (p.11)
•support studies that consider the impact of locally oriented food production and distribution activities—e.g. farmer’s markets…community gardens, public markets, and other locally sourced food businesses on the area-wide economy (p.12)
•encourage mixed-use neighborhood design and redevelopment to include small and mid-size grocery stores (e.g., 3,000 to 20,000 square feet), seasonal farmers markets, and open space and related infrastructure for community vegetable gardens to allow residents to grow their own food (p.13)
•on publicly owned lands, such as schoolyards, parks and greenways, and tax foreclosed properties, support the development of vegetable gardens, edible landscaping, and related infrastructure, and the formation of partnerships with community-based nonprofits serving low-income residents for garden related programs (p.13)
•support development of urban agriculture projects and community vegetable gardens on school, park, and community center sites, and near public agency offices and nonprofit providers offering health, human and social services (p.14)
•promote the provision of community gardens, urban agriculture projects, and community kitchen in multi-family and low-income housing projects (p.14)
•provide incentives and special zoning provisions to integrate locally supported agriculture (e.g., community gardens, urban agriculture, small farms) into existing settlements and new areas of residential developments (p.15)
•develop plans and redevelopment proposals for food insecure areas with sites and incentives for community gardens, entrepreneurial urban agriculture projects, farmers markets, neighborhood grocery stores, and food assistance programs (p.17)
•assist urban agriculture projects through land use, zoning, facility location and related community development activities where some produce is sold at farmers markets and to restaurants, where food business incubation in community kitchens creates value-added products like salsa and salad dressing, and where food kiosks and catering operations are opened (p.17)